A former premier and chief justice, a former federal privacy commissioner and a former legislative reporter and senior television news producer have been tapped for a blue-ribbon panel to review Newfoundland and Labrador’s access-to-information laws.

Premier Tom Marshall made the announcement at Confederation Building early Tuesday afternoon.

“We are fortunate that such highly qualified and respected individuals have agreed to undertake this important review,” Marshall said.

“I have every confidence in their capabilities.”

The panel members are:

  • Clyde Wells, who served as Liberal premier from 1989 to 1996 and chief justice of the Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court of Appeal from 1999 to 2009. Wells will chair the group.
  • Jennifer Stoddart, who was privacy commissioner of Canada from 2003 to 2013.
  • Doug Letto, who retired after a career with CBC News spanning three decades. Letto was senior producer of Here & Now when he departed from the public broadcaster in late 2013.

Review of law moved forward

In January, the premier announced that a statutory review of Bill 29 would be moved forward. It was scheduled to happen next year.

“We believe in the principle of opening up the government to those who own it, the people of Newfoundland and Labrador,” Marshall told reporters Tuesday.

“So we’ve been working diligently over the past weeks to assemble a committee that will do the review of the legislation, and a committee that will leave no doubt about our commitment to achieve the highest standards of access to information and protection of privacy in this province.”

The Tory government has taken a political pummelling since Bill 29 was passed nearly two years, dogged by allegations of excessive secrecy.

“People have expressed concerns, so we’re going to have this impartial committee take a look at our legislation,” Marshall said.

“Let’s not prejudge the outcome. Let’s see what they’ve got to say.”

Bill 29 added exemptions

Bill 29 broadened the classes of information the government can withhold from disclosure.

The new committee will look at those changes, and the overall state of Newfoundland and Labrador open-records laws.

Steve Kent Tom Marshall Bill 29 review CBC

Public Engagement Minister Steve Kent and Premier Tom Marshall address reporters at a news conference Tuesday announcing the members of a review panel into the province's open-records laws. (Rob Antle/CBC)

“It’s not just about the amendments that were made in 2012,” Public Engagement Minister Steve Kent said.

“Every single line of our access to information and protection of privacy legislation is up for review, and we anticipate that the review committee will do a very thorough analysis of each and every line.”

According to the premier, there is no deadline for the report to be completed.

Marshall indicated that he hopes it can be done relatively quickly, but said the members of the review committee will decide how long it will take to do the work.

Liberals, NDP OK with appointments

The Liberals and New Democrats say they have no problem with the three members appointed to do the review.

“It’s a good committee,” Opposition Leader Dwight Ball said.

“I think there’s a lot of balance in the committee that was released today ... These are not names that we would have any issue with.”

NDP Leader Lorraine Michael concurred.

“The three members are excellent people in their fields, and I think there’s a good mix of experience," she said. 

"It seems to be a very independent body, and I’m pleased about that.”

Both Ball and Michael called on the government to repeal Bill 29 while the review committee does its work.